Courtesy Photo
Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Starring Casper van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey & Neil Patrick Harris.

This film is on the Worst of 1997 list.

"Starship Troopers"

Opened: November 7, 1997 | Rated: R

After the abysmal embarrassment that was "Showgirls," you might think director Paul Verhoeven would have no place to go but up.

Boy, would you be wrong.

"Starship Troopers" is a disaster of proportions that "Showgirls" naysayers could only imagine before now.

A gyp of a science fiction war movie based -- in the loosest possible sense of the word -- on a Robert Heinlein novel, this flick wallows in just about every moth-ridden cliché known to the film industry and relies almost entirely on naked teenage girls and recycled special effects for what it deems excitement.

Ostensibly about an inter-galactic war between humans and giant insects, "Troopers" is 100 percent devoid of original thought.

Verhoeven draws not only on his own films for cheap sex scenes and bad dialogue, but scavenges ideas, techniques and sometimes entire scenes from other sources. The film pirates "Star Wars," "Dr. Who," "Star Trek," half a dozen World War II movies, twice that many Technicolor sci-fi flicks, "Beverly Hills 90210," three or four Molly Ringwald movies, "Independence Day," "Babylon 5," the "Star Tours" ride at Disneyland, "Battlestar Galactica," "Roots," a couple of Westerns and "Saved By the Bell." It even steals whole the infirmary scene from "Gone With the Wind."

Starring mostly unrecognizable secondary players from Fox network shows, "Troopers" treads water for nearly 45 minutes before it gets to any of the heavily hyped battles with computer-generated super bugs. The first half of the movie is spent establishing an R-rated love triangle between three characters so generic that I can't even remember their names. It's like "Melrose Place" in space.

Under the mistaken impression that people who line up for a $90 million effects movie are also looking for canned political statements and shallow melodrama, Verhoeven lathers "Troopers" with ironic patriotism for a fascist global government and tiresome domestic squabbles between an army recruit and his parents.

These early scenes are so narcoleptic one almost can't help but catalog the sci-fi clichés: Why are footballs silver in the future? Why do all alien races have seams down their bellies that pop open during autopsies? Why do military officials in future dress like Aldolf Hitler crossed with Joan Collins? Why, in an era of cell-regeneration surgery, would a hard-nosed squad commander have a metal prosthetic hand?

Eventually, but not nearly soon enough, the bugs attack, entirely unprovoked, tossing asteroids half way across the galaxy and leveling Buenos Aires. These "arachnids" allegedly have tiny brains and no means of space travel, so how and why they attack Earth is never clear (not to mention the fact that it would take centuries for these asteroids to travel from point A to point B).

Although we humans have mastered light speed travel, we have apparently lost the art of aerial bombardment, so in response Earth sends a plethora of infantry, armed with little more than space age M-16s, to the bug planet for some hand-to-antennae combat. The battle scenes go the splatter movie route and are riddled with tactical miscues. Meanwhile one of the giant bug species literally farts glowing blue cannonballs into orbit to take out dozens of our ships.

After each battle, "Troopers" stops to take stock of who is alive and where their sexual relationships stand, giving the women in the cast another chance to strip. The movie follows religiously the horror movie rule that the more modest the girl, the longer she survives.

I'd normally rattle off the names of some of these actors, but with the exception of Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D.") and Jake Busey (whose resemblence to his dad, Gary, is uncanny), I doubt you'll see any of them again, so I'm not going to bother.

Forced to say something nice about "Starship Troopers," I would offer that it does have spectacular special effects. The computer-generated bugs -- armored, swarming and scary -- may be the best CGI effects ever produced. But with "Titanic" and "Godzilla" on the horizon, that means next to nothing.

If "Starship Troopers" is a success, it will be an indication that name stars are not needed to buoy one of these hollow "event movies," and that may open the floodgates for tidal wave of starless, plotless effects flicks.

A daunting thought, to be sure. But for now I just want my two hours back.

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